Ross Capili: The Genius of Color

The genius of Ross Capili’s art is in his colors. He paints them in varied shades and strokes with different media on many surfaces. Then, he layers them — glass on wood, wood on wood, mounted on glass — and uses many other wizardries rarely imagined or done before.

Ross’s brilliance comes from his command of the science. Life colors are addictive. So, Ross splashes his work with them; and as we are hopelessly hooked, he takes us to the language of forms and formlessness. He makes flower ribbons and puts them inside a glass receptacle . We look inside to find butterflies seemingly in a dance. And then, he further reveals the receptacle is shaped like a heart, which when paired with another, the two resemble a butterfly — the pledge, turn, and prestige of a different form of magic. And sometimes, we say what a silly thing to do, but we can’t help but love it. Ross knows he’s got it, the genius of color, his play is our enchantment.

I cook therefore I am: The Aesthetics of Food

On special occasions, I cook a favorite dish that I call Pastelero Pasta, which my wife serves to her friends after they whip out an afternoon of pastel painting. I developed this recipe after years of fascination with spaghetti, a special dish in the Filipino birthday and holiday table. As an Asian kid who lived on rice as a regular meal, I was delighted with having this pasta with red sauce and bits of meat and cheese, which was the ultimate treat. The recipe was canonical, and everywhere we went spaghetti was served almost with the same look and taste. My experience with spaghetti changed  when my late mother brought home one afternoon a box of Jollibee Spaghetti. It came to me then that spaghetti can be sweet and spicy. I had long suspected that they used banana ketchup, but I have no evidence to back me up.

After getting married and having children, I took the task of serving the Saturday home snack and began to experiment on the taste of  spaghetti to which my young family obliged. After months of practice, I decided I wanted a spaghetti sauce that would have sour and salty tones that seem like they are dancing or pulling each other in a tug of war — similar to the four notes of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, a sort of dance that could take in the flavors of the herbs and spices, such as the basil, peppers, paprika, as well as the fragrance of olives and capers, and that protein clincher: chorizo.  I have learned a couple of recipe hacks after reading a lot on Italian cuisine, and I wanted to use what I knew on the pasta, as if it were a canvas for a painting, and my medium was the sauce.

My interest here, however,  is to breakdown the cooking experience and find out what may bring food the possibilities of art. There is a system in the art of cooking from the gathering of the ingredients, to the preparation and cooking process, and finally to the plating. Yet, it is not just system and all, there is also the possibility that food will bring a meaningful experience, one that makes it not just nourishment for the body but also for the soul. What might these elements be?

The fundamentals should underscore the function of food. Thus, food safety is the first priority.  In preparing the Pastelero Pasta, I buy several kilos of fresh tomatoes.  I inspect them each to make sure they are not overripe or rotten. They have to be cleaned before they are boiled.  It helps to soak them a bit on water with a spoon of vinegar and rinsed to kill the harmful bacteria that might have contaminated them. The same emphasis on cleanliness should be made on the cooking materials and the cooking process.

Nutrition is the second element. The basic food groups, protein, fat, and carbohydrates, should be represented, based on the daily recommended diet. Some diets encourage more of one food group, such as the keto diet, which emphasizes fat and protein. As a pasta dish meant to nourish hungry pasteleros, the carbohydrates in the recipe are big in this dish. Protein is in the chorizo and the anchovies and the fat is in the olive oil.

Third is the contingencies of time and place. The environment where the food is to be consumed affects the availability of the ingredients and the appropriateness of serving the food. Nobody plants olives and capers in the Philippines. We have no choice but to buy them in cans. The pasta is available from manufacturers. But the preference is fresh pasta from flour.

Pasta is best served straight from the pot. Unfortunately, the limitations of space prevent us from cooking the pasta on the venue, and so sadly we compromise by pre-cooking it and splashing it with ice to prevent it from over-cooking. For other dishes, I imagine that the changing of the seasons restrict their availability. In the Philippines, pasta is an all weather food. It can be cooked and served anytime of the year. The time constraint is in the two hours needed to cook the sauce.

The fourth element is one that I call food semantics. This is where it gets exciting. Is there a system of meaning for food? I believe there is. There is food we serve on happy occasions, food for business, and also food for days of mourning. To be able to harness this, one must be sensitive to the cultures that come into play with food.

Ingredients can be a metaphor for a place. The spaghetti represents the heritage of Italy. And to serve the Pastelero Pasta, with other Italian ingredients like olives and capers, to pastel artists after an afternoon of painting, connects the Filipino artists to the Italian and western artists who first discovered the medium of pastel for painting.

The spaghetti also represents a period in one’s life — especially to us Filipinos who had the spaghetti in children’s parties as we were growing up — that is filled with innocence and pure joy. Thus, to serve and be served with spaghetti always recalls a time of happiness and delight.

In the case of the Pastelero, the taste also has a meaning. The tug of war between the sourness and saltiness of the sauce, the two dominant tastes in the dish represent the marriage of the Apollonius and Dionysus forces of art. The sourness came from the ripe tomatoes that were born from shrub that had life and energy, and the saltiness from the salt of the earth, lifeless element of the Dionysius, that is banal and crass. The form can also mean a lot. We could say that the formlessness of the sauce like water that envelopes the pasta is epitome of power and strength.

In my case, a lot of this is accidental, but in the hands a master chef whose life is dedicated to the art of food, the play of symbology in the elements of cooking can be as insightful as a Picasso mural.

In the book, The Flavor Matrix, James Briscione theorizes with the aid of scientific knowledge and a computer that flavors balance and complement each other. I looked up the sour and salty combination, and it’s not there. But what I discovered is that sour is balanced by fat, which is why olive oil is a crucial part of the recipe, and fat is complimented by salty. Thus, in this little tug of war that I’ve imagined, what is happening scientifically is the sour taste that is playing a tug of war with the fat, and the salty is complementing the fat.

The last stage of the cooking process which is the plating completes the fifth element of the aesthetics of food. The way the food is presented can be metaphorical and can provide the key to understanding the true meaning of the dish. I once had the privilege to eat at a first class restaurant with the food arranged in the proportion of the fibonacci number. How could this not be art?

Thus, food may be elevated to the status of art if these elements are meticulously used by the cook to create a meaningful experience: safety, nutrition, time and space, semantics, and plating.

I sometimes imagine my favorite philosopher, Rene Descartes, eating a chorizo. It’s the same chorizo that I put in the recipe and is not typically mixed with the tomato sauce. The standard Italian pasta recipe normally uses the meatball or an Italian garlic sausage, which are not bad either. Descartes is credited for saving the modern world from insanity and hopelessness, for his single insight, I think therefor I am. Putting the chorizo in the Pastelero is my metaphor for existence, an act of the thinking mind nourished by the Filipinos’ love for spaghetti. By cooking this dish exclusively for my family and my wife’s friends, I declare, I cook therefore I am. Copyright 2018. All rights reserved.

Update: Jollibee spaghetti has banana ketchup according to this news article about Jollibee Restaurant opening in Milan, Italy.

Oh What a Show! — The Greatest Showman

show

This is where we have a clean break with musicals based on Broadway. The movie musical has elements that makes its performance incomparable with the old theater – the narrative, the music, the dances, plus the ever-powerful eye known as the camera. And here, the eye takes us through the rise and fall narrative based on the life of P. T. Barnum, and the music and the dances really entertain. But we’re experiencing everything for the first time, no expectations, no disappointments, just fresh anticipation that we’ll be going home after the show with a song to hunt down in Spotify to animate our day.

The opening sequence declares, “This is the Greatest Show,” well — it probably is not but surely one of the greatest, yet that exaggeration is fine. “A Million Dreams” is a flashback to the rise of P.T. Barnum, and we are treated to the delight of sights and sounds in a run down house in the forest that soon ends on a Manhattan skyscraper with dance steps performed at the fringes of the roof.

“The Other Side” which is the song and dance performance about two gentlemen negotiating a work arrangement over drinks is plain genius. The technical difficulty of mounting this part of the film deserves recognition. From the choreography that syncopates to the beat, to the lyrics (I imagine this is how Steve Jobs pirated the Pepsi Cola CEO to run Apple in the 80s), and the musical arrangement as the drinks are rolled in and the performers are gulping them to the punctuations of the drum. They must have been drunk after the shoot. Of course, nobody in real life should do that.

The trapeze act with the lovers singing “Rewrite the Stars” is marvelous and breath-taking, another “for show” only, not recommended to be done at home. When the sequence started, I was cringing on my seat, whispering to myself, this can’t be happening. But the performance bar has been set, love is the topic with Romeo and Juliet characters swinging on a fifteen meter high trapeze, nothing can compare.

There is no doubt that this musical has fully explored the artistic possibilities of the film in the musical form, but the question is are we getting enough substance?

In the lectures of Michel Foucault, he spent some time about the predicament of the “freak”, how they have been outcasted by society. Foucault describes the human monster as a breach of the law and stands outside of the law in the 18th century. But in this movie, P.T. Barnum spins this prejudice and turns it into a show. Of course, the pejorative connotations of the circus will probably stick around for a long time, and the New York critic states at the heart of the film that the circus is not art, but somebody else might describe it as a celebration of humanity. That is very clever I must say, a very subdued declaration that is not only double-hearsay and loose opinion, yet it is there floated around for everyone to ponder.

But I would be an advocate for the sole reason that people in those times did not know any better. Freaks were hidden, considered as the offsprings of sinners, cursed to be outcasts, with no hope and place in society. To be able to isolate the thought that the freaks are curiosities but otherwise normal and bet a dollar people will pay to watch the freaks, that is akin to a scientific paradigm shift. So, I am claiming that statement, “The circus was a celebration of humanity.” I said it, and probably will say that again and again. The circus was a breakthrough. We should acknowledge that we wouldn’t have encountered the freaks and the elephants in the normal course of things were it not for the guy who thought that they could be put on exhibit for a buck. Nevermind, if they were made to ride a horse while shooting blanks and wearing weird but happy costumes.

Be that as it may, the sustainability of the circus business is off the table, especially because we know so much more now, and the human and animal rights advocates are saying something right — the freaks are no different from us, and the animals need to thrive in their own environment. Further, this is no way an endorsement of P. T. Barnum as a hero of sorts. While P.T. Barnum of the movie follows Campbell’s myth of a hero, the real life P.T. Barnum is a much more complex character. I’m pretty sure, he played both hero and villain depending on one’s inclinations. This is the tricky part with material based on true-to-life stories, the melding of the fiction and the non-fiction is contentious and the standard of what elements to editorialize or fictionalize is relative. That matter is for the historians to deal with. It is enough that the film declared that it is based on P. T. Barnum’s life, and is not a documentary. Thus, comments about the historical accuracy of the film are irrelevant to its artistic merit.

Indeed, the movie is an exemplification of the “show”. Every note, streak of light, shadow, beat, and word that the movie brings form part of an artistic system that is hooked on the metaphor of the Greatest Showman. The amusing part is it declared that the circus is not one that could be called art, as if to say, and proudly and rightly so, that this movie is.

As a final note, the soundtrack is now on endless repeat mode on my Spotify. Not quite as edgy as the ones from La La Land, which were written by the same guys, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, but the addition of the African drums and the dramatic pauses at the end instead of the grand coda are welcome. These songs relate very well to the mini-events of the daily grind, replete with meaning, a little bit Disneyesque, but might as well be used as a soundtrack for life.

Notes on Rilke’s Archaic Torso of Apollo

Rilke refers to the headless sculpture of Apollo and Dionysus is not mentioned, but we see him all over — the fact that this is just a fragment of bigger sculpture, the references to the darkness, the wild beast, and the bursting of a star, all elements of the Dionysus, and yet Apollo shines through. And this recognition of the beauty that appears in this torso of Apollo is the moment that moved the persona to declare, “you must change your life.”

 

torso

Torso by Rodin from pinterest

Archaic Torso of Apollo

Rainer Maria Rilke, 1875 – 1926

Translated by Stephen Mitchell

 

We cannot know his legendary head

with eyes like ripening fruit. And yet his torso

is still suffused with brilliance from inside,

like a lamp, in which his gaze, now turned to low,

gleams in all its power. Otherwise

the curved breast could not dazzle you so, nor could

a smile run through the placid hips and thighs

to that dark center where procreation flared.

Otherwise this stone would seem defaced

beneath the translucent cascade of the shoulders

and would not glisten like a wild beast’s fur:

would not, from all the borders of itself,

burst like a star: for here there is no place

that does not see you. You must change your life.

 

NOTES:

1. This is a tricky thing, a poem about a sculpture. Rodin himself, Rilke’s favorite sculptor, evaluates his work with light from a candle by hovering a piece’s curves and edges with the candle in a dimly-lit room, finding out how the smoothness and roughness of its parts respond to the play of light and shadows, before proceeding to chisel away or declaring the work is done. It is the master’s method of appreciating a sculpture, not exactly recommended for all, especially as these days candles are considered fire hazards. Yet, in this poem, Rilke, as he has done many times, uses poetry to describe a sculpture. And so, the question is posited, what do we appreciate here, the sculpture, the poem, or both?

2. In this poem, the persona is not showing us the sculpture, albeit one can imagine how it would look like as described by every line. Yet, the poem also shows how the persona is affected by the sculpture, which makes for interesting subject; the reader is now witness to the persona viewing the sculpture — a complex of elements: the poem, the persona, the sculpture, and the reader.

3. The sad thing about poetry in translation is the loss of the music of the original language of the poem. But we’re not interested in that here; it’s beyond what can be achieved. As a translated poem, we have to assume as a given that the original poem had intended a meaning, and the meaning has been achieved in the translated poem. In other words, to keep this enterprise worthy, we have to assume Rilke wrote this in English, as we’re reading an English text, and English is Rilke’s tongue — a rather wild proposition, but we have to take it as it as otherwise the dialogue of world cultures would not be possible.

4. The poem starts with the head (which is not there) and moves downward as if to follow a streak of light, to the brilliance of the “torso” and when the imaginary eye sees the bottom, it points to the “dark center where procreation flared” — as if there is an explosion from nothingness like a star. But the last two lines, take on metaphysical heights, “For here there is no place that does not see you. You must change your life.”

5. The persona is saying this encounter with this sculpture, which is just a piece of probably a bigger sculpture, is a life changing moment for the persona. And by this time, we already know the poem’s focus is not the sculpture nor the poem nor the reader — but that exact moment when the piece of art has bestowed upon the consciousness of the persona that his life is now different because of this sculpture, which appears to be enveloped in light rapturing like a star.

6. In Nietzsche’s The Birth of A Tragedy, he speaks of the Apollonius and Dionysus  forces, the duality of order and disorder that animate life and give birth to music and art. And here, Rilke refers to the headless sculpture of Apollo and Dionysus is not mentioned, but we see him all over — the fact that this is just a fragment of bigger sculpture, the references to the darkness, the wild beast, and the bursting of a star, all elements of the Dionysus, and yet Apollo shines through. And this recognition of the beauty that appears in this torso of Apollo is the moment that moved the persona to declare, “you must change your life.”

7. Follow how the persona describes the light, much like the one from Rodin’s candle, and the missing head, the torso suffused with brilliance, the lamp, the gleaming power, the dazzling curved breast, “the dark center where procreation flared”, the translucent cascade of the shoulders, the  (un)glistening wild beast’s fur, the bursting of a star, and the second to the last line that functions like a platform —  “for here there is no place that does not see you”  — from which leaps the line “You must change your life”. The systematic play of light and the image of the torso is teeming with meaning as it is in itself an exemplification of the experience of artistic illumination — thus, the last line “You must change your life” is an inevitable conclusion. And with this poem, Rilke cements the common ground that links poetry, sculpture, and all arts for that matter —  the cognitive  experience of the truth. And while we’re at it, it is also what links science, art, and religion as a human endeavor.

8. Let’s stop here and just think, light and darkness. Read the poem again. Indeed, we must change our life.

 

Julius Legaspi’s Theotokos

(Our Lady of Vladimir, oil on canvas, 12 x 16 by Julius Legaspi. This original work was lost, probably to a prayerful thief in 2014)

Make no mistake about it. If heaven has an art gallery, expect to find a Julius Legaspi painting hanging on its walls. The somber tone, the simplicity of the composition, the soft glow in the colors, especially in his pastel paintings, make Julius Legaspi’s work mirror the qualities of the perfect and divine. One can spend countless hours extracting all the aesthetic merits from of his work without exhausting them. The man has a clear disdain for the prosaic and the cliche, and given his youth, Julius Legaspi should be around for many years with the chance to crack the world art circles.

In his recent exhibition at the Gateway Gallery in Cubao, Julius placed his pastel reproduction of the image of the Our Lady of Vladimir at the center panel. It was like an apparition. The image took me back to the days when my late mother was carrying around this novena book with the Virgin Mother’s sad-looking expression that always made me curious.

But at the sight of Julius’s rendition, the answer came to me as if whispered by the Virgin herself, it is the Virgin Mother’s face when she found Jesus at the temple. From the Gospel of St. Luke, the story is told when the Child Jesus was left behind in the temple unknown to Mary and Joseph who had been traveling back home for a day when they discovered the Child Jesus was missing. When the Virgin Mother found Child Jesus at the temple, she admonished him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you?” And the Child Jesus replied, “Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he was saying to them.

Julius said he once did an oil reproduction of the Theotokos, the name used to call the Mother of God in Eastern Christianity, from an image he found in Maestro Fernando Sena’s works. But the gallery lost the image, probably to theft (oh by such prayerful thief!) and so he decided to make a new one for his latest show.

The Theotokos of Vladimir has a rich history and its original maker is unknown, albeit tradition has it that it was St. Luke who made it from the real subjects. The image was brought to Vladimir in 1155 and then moved Moscow. It is said that Moscow was saved from certain ruin by an attack from the Tartars in 1451 and 1480 by the prayers for the intercession of the Virgin. This is similar to the belief in the intercession of the Virgin Mother that saved the Spanish navy from the Dutch forces in the Battle of Lepanto in October 7, 1571 that led to the Philippine devotion to the Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary of La Naval de Manila.

The devotion to the Virgin Mother is deeply-rooted in Philippine tradition and has found its way in various forms. Didn’t the fabled Ginebra San Miguel professional basketball team coached by the legendary Robert Jaworski use to end their huddles with the prayer, “Our Lady of Victory”? The Ateneo de Manila University’s alma mater song sung to the tune of the Canadian anthem is a paean to Mary. It is also not uncommon to find businessmen and executives wearing an October medal of the Virgin Mother as a testament to the their devotion with a back story waiting to be told on how in their darkest hours the Virgin Mother came to their rescue.

Julius Legaspi’s foray into religious art, the only one in the show, which showcased other themes and subjects, also highlighted his humility and discipline as an artist. He stayed faithful to the traditional image, in spite of his creative powers. An ordinary artist would have messed it up, but Julius, consistent with his reputation for creating simple and powerful images remained faithful to the image, and in the process created a masterpiece.

Tolstoy would have approved. The presence of the Theotokos by Julius Legaspi evokes the feeling of a child once separated from his mother and finding she has returned. Nothing could be more comforting.

Ang Larawan: The movie as hope

I think the best approach to enjoying “Ang Larawan” is the one in which the viewer temporarily breaks off with its original version as a play and watches it as a movie as if it was originally conceived and produced as such. Having read the play and having seen the production of the musical version years ago, I was telling my wife, this could be a sleeper, especially so that I have developed this habit of dozing off on a film if its first ten minutes fail to interest me. But she made a bet that I wouldn’t because the language of Larawan, which is Filipino (although I think it is Tagalog at its finest) would keep my interest piqued and help me stay awake. Then, the film started to roll.

I wasn’t just awake, I was fully engaged.  From the opening sequence, in which I was debating with myself whether the set was in Intramuros or the old Villavicencio house in Taal, Batangas, to the final scene  when the last procession of the La Naval in October 1941 before the war broke in December that year was shown, the movie had me on a roller coaster of emotions. And my verdict:  Say goodbye to your play Nick Joaquin. This play of yours is no longer your own. We are part of it now.

The two ladies, Candida and Paula, describing themselves as “lukaret” had me rolling in laughter. I haven’t heard that word in a long time, and Rolando Tinio, the translator, managing to insert that in the sequence after the fallen high society dames realized that they were being stupid for thinking that their electricity was cut off during a blackout war drill is pure genius. Don Perico’s song “Hindi simple ang buhay”, the wailing of a morally-compromised ex-poet and successful politician hits the level of the guts. Ay! — the shock of recognition when I remember that the once and future President, Raul S. Roco, considered a career in poetry before going to law school. The Conga sequence provides much of the comic relief and keeps everything interesting, as if telling the audience, we know this is heavy stuff, let’s dance.

But Larawan takes you to that part where Candida and Paula are confronted with the ten thousand dollar question, to sell or not to sell their old man Lorenzo Marasigan’s obra maestra. I was half-laughing and half-crying at this scene, asking myself what would I do if I were in their shoes? Being the husband of an artist and knowing the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune as Shakespeare puts it, I know it might happen to me or my children once (God forbid!), and we will have to choose: a prized artwork or the next meal? Having lived a daily and meaningful existence with an artwork that adorns the abode, one’s experience of parting with great art for a paltry sum feels like eternal damnation, an unforgivable act of shame, and a prostitution of one’s life and humanity.

Yet still,  Larawan has a final highlight that throws the audience in cathartic ecstasy. As the elder Marasigan siblings threaten to drag Paula and Candida out of the house, the hermit artist comes out of his room, embraces the sisters, and looms large on the screen, his face full with the expression of love, hope, and defiance against the onslaught of the call to go with the modernizing way of the world. Meanwhile, the La Naval procession outside approaches the house and the camera zooms in on the Virgin Mother whose miraculous intercession is credited for the Spanish victory over the invading superior Dutch forces several centuries ago, as if to say that where all hope is gone,  the fire and brimstone of war at your door, your siblings and friends have sold you out, and the last drop of energy in your bones about to give, the devotion to the Virgin Mary is the last sanctuary for all of us battered souls.

Writing as Quijano de Manila, Nick Joaquin himself describes in his essay, La Naval de Manila, the experience of seeing this annual procession,

“Many an October evening while watching this procession of La Naval, and having divined, by a general excitement, the approach of the image, he has heard the cries and trumpets of the passing concourse. He has seen her blaze into vision against the skies of his city, born upon cloud of incense and music, her face on fire with jewels and mysterious with the veneration of centuries, with gleaming rainbows forming and falling all about her and silken doves bobbing whitely among her flowers of gold and silver—Oh, beautiful and radiant as an apparition!—the Presence at Lepanto, Lady and Queen and Mother of Manila, the Virgin of the Fifteen Mysteries.”

The play ends with Bitoy Camacho’s elegiac pleas  among the ruins of the Marasigan house as he calls on Candida, Paula, and Lorenzo Marasigan who died in their house during the war. The movie cuts off the sequence and with good reason. This is a movie and not a play. The language of the film is light and shadow. Where the play ends with a speech, the film ends with a scene of a life long gone but beautifully preserved in images and song.

Tolstoy would have approved. While the movie doesn’t preach, hope is a theme that permeates its every scene; hope that springs from the love between sisters and the sisters and their aged father. It was love that moved the long retired artist to paint an obra maestra to save his daughters from the poverty and the onslaught of decay in the last days of old Manila; the same love that kept the sisters together and ultimately what moved them not to sell their father’s dying gift. And love it is that kept the characters of this movie and the inhabitants of old Manila to preserve the tradition of the La Naval, a brotherhood amidst destruction and death animated only by faith and hope in the Mother of God.

I emerged from this film with a profound infection of love and hope. Living in the conditions similar to old Manila, a threat of nuclear war from North Korea, despair among the citizens where a phony drug war is used to subterfuge institutional abuse, I imagined myself as the patriarchal Lorenzo Marasigan with that unforgettable expression on his face as if to say the words that are also the rallying cry of this film: contra mundum!

MV5BMDU4YmQ2MTgtZTYwNy00M2JhLWIxZjEtMTI4NDYxNzRjY2NmXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTI5NjIyMw@@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_

Links:

Official trailer

Official website: Ang Larawan

Portrait of the Artist as Filipino by Nick Joaquin

Larawan: The Movie

Our Lady of La Naval de Manila

Intramuros

Nick Joaquin